There are not many 25 year olds who can boast two world titles, but following a dominating 2015 World Speedway Championship, British born Tai Woffinden is one of the rare breeds who can...
Often described as one of the rawest forms of motor racing, Speedway is an incredible spectacle that sees four riders, each with a 77kg, 500cc monster (capable of surpassing the acceleration of a Formula One car) go head to head around an anti-clockwise oval. With just a throttle, clutch, one gear and no brakes they are the ultimate test of rider skill as they slide the bikes sideways into the corners for four laps per race…oh, and did we forget to mention - these incredible machines don’t have a rear shock!
Having used an Öhlins fork-shock set-up for over five years, Tai knows the importance of suspension in Speedway and he first realised just what a difference it could make after family friend and Öhlins technician Craig Cummins attended a race meeting with him... "I knew
of Tai and his Speedway exploits from early on as I was a good friend of his father" explained Craig, "I myself had been involved in the sport from a very young age and have always been fascinated by the mechanical side of motorcycle racing. I actually began my career back in 1985 with Shawn Morwan, and worked with the likes of Bobby Schwartz, Kelley Moran, Jimmy Nilsen, Greg Hancock and then nine years with 1996 World Speedway champion Billy Hamill. After setting up a tuning company in 1997, I built engines for Billy as well as managing his racing affairs (sponsorship, contracts etc.) up until 2002, when I took a side step and began working for the Kenny Roberts MotoGP squad!
I joined Kenny’s team to be part of the four-stoke engine group but was transferred into the racing team as a mechanic. I was incredibly privileged to train at HRC in Japan and build the V5 Honda that we raced in 2006.
It was in 2009 that Matt Larsson approached me to work for Öhlins. I jumped at the chance and since then have worked with the brand across the British and World Superbike paddocks - although mostly I've been in MotoGP.
It was during a race meeting watching Tai in 2010 that I decided to get involved with him. I watched him crash and I could see immediately that the problem was that his front tyre had no contact with the track surface in the corner. The kit he was using at the time didn't seem to be working so I made him a prototype shock to test by machining an existing Öhlins part. We bolted it on for a race and Tai came straight to me afterwards to ask me to make him some more!
Obviously as it was a prototype this was difficult, but then for the following season we designed a specific shock just for Speedway, the SW136 Öhlins Speedway shock. It is available exclusively through my company, Cummings Motorsports Services Ltd, and alongside helping Tai to two World Championships it's also used by 2014 and 2015 European Champion Emil Sayfutdinov and 12 year old 125cc World Champion Kyle Bickley!"
The shock enabled Tai to take yet another step forward, as the 2013 and 2015 World Champ explains, "After trying the prototype Craig built I immediately knew I wanted this permanently, my front wheel was planted through every corner - no matter whether the track was smooth or a little rutted. After that, I've not wanted to use anything but Öhlins. I worked directly with Craig to develop the SW136, which I then used in 2013 in the World Speedway Championship. That was a fantastic year for me, winning the title was a dream come true and I was actually the youngest champion in the modern Speedway era too!
Tai, who has a style all of his own with his tattoos and ear ‘hoops’ continues, “2014 was a bit more difficult for me, I struggled with various things and just couldn't replicate my form from the previous year. Craig actually came on to help me towards the end of that year and we worked throughout the winter on setup which meant we were able to hit the ground running at the start of last season. It was another incredible year, perhaps my best yet, and I felt comfortable throughout the whole season.
Towards the end of the year, as we began to near crunch time, things were very close at the front and my team and I decided that if I could get my head down and push to build a gap in the standings then those behind might lose track and begin fighting amongst themselves for second place. As it turned out that's exactly what happened and I was able to wrap the title up with a round to spare!
That last round was a bit of an odd experience, as I was already World Champ and if I'm honest it was one of the hardest races I've ever had to prepare for.
Obviously there's lots of things that need to be combined to make a World championship challenge but for me suspension is definitely one of them. I actually rode a friend’s bike last year for a bit of fun, he had a different brand on and I couldn't believe the difference!
Since the title, I've spent the winter in Australia and have just got back to the UK ready for the final push ahead of the start of the season, I'm feeling confident and ready for another year so let's see what 2016 brings!"